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Mobley v. Barnacle

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 23, 2015

GERRY MOBLEY, JR., Plaintiff,
JAMES BARNACLE, et al., Defendants.


SUSAN E. SCHWAB, Magistrate Judge.

In this civil action, proceeding via an amended complaint, the pro se plaintiff, Gerry Mobley, Jr. ("Mobley"), currently an inmate at SCI Greene raises federal constitutional claims against employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition, Mobley raises state-law tort claims. Mobley's claims in this lawsuit primarily stem from his imprisonment at SCI Huntingdon. Currently pending is the defendants' partial motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Our recommendations follow.

I. Relevant Procedural History.

On April 1, 2014, Mobley initiated this lawsuit by filing a complaint. Doc. 1. Along with the complaint, Mobley filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis that we granted. Docs. 2 & 9. On September 17, 2014, Mobley filed an amended complaint of right and named the following seven defendants: (1) James Barnacle ("Barnacle"), the DOC's Director for the Office of Special Intelligence and Investigation ("OSII"); (2) Tabb Bickell ("Bickell"), the former Superintendent at SCI Huntingdon; (3) Caleb Younker ("Younker"), a Corrections Sergeant at SCI Huntingdon; (4) James Booher ("Booher"), a Corrections Officer at SCI Huntingdon; (5) Andrew Nickum ("Nickum"), a Corrections Office at SCI Huntingdon; 6) FNU Myers, a Corrections Officer at SCI Huntingdon; and (7) FNU Reed, a Misconduct Hearing Examiner at SCI Houtzdale. Doc. 8. According to Mobley, he sues Barnacle and Bickell in their official and individual capacities, while he solely sues the remaining defendants in their individual capacities. Generally, in his amended complaint, Mobley asserts First, Eighth, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As well, Mobley raises intentional tort claims pursuant to Pennsylvania state law. On January 14, 2015, the defendants waived service, Doc. 11, and, on February 23, 2015, they filed a partial motion to dismiss[1] that is ripe for the Court's disposition. Docs. 16, 17 & 19.

II. Legal Standard.

Defendants' partial motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Under Rule 12(b)(6), we must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). While a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "[L]abels and conclusions" are not enough, and a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoted case omitted).

In resolving a motion to dismiss, we thus "conduct a two-part analysis." Fowler, supra, 578 F.3d at 210. First, we separate the factual elements from the legal elements and disregard the legal conclusions. Id. at 210-11. Second, we "determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (quoted case omitted).

While traditionally focused upon the allegations contained in a complaint, a court may also consider exhibits attached to a complaint, matters of public record, and "an undisputedly authentic document" relied upon by the plaintiff and attached as an exhibit to a defendant's motion to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, in a case such as this, a complaint filed by a pro se litigant is to be liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than formal complaints drafted by a lawyer. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Nevertheless, " pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim." Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013).

III. Mobley's Amended Complaint.[2]

In the amended complaint, Mobley begins by discussing an earlier case he had filed against employees at SCI Huntingdon, Mobley v. Snyder, 1:13-CV-00772 (M.D. Pa.), of which this Court is familiar. Mobley's other lawsuit, which is also still active, involved constitutional claims for retaliation, inadequate medical care, and violations of due process against employees at SCI Huntingdon. Among the individuals named as defendants there were Bickell, Booher, and Nickum. On June 7, 2013, prior to service on the named defendants, the undersigned screened Mobley's pleading pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and recommended, in pertinent part, that the Court dismiss the claim against Bickell without prejudice. The undersigned did not specifically address the claims against Nickum and Booher; instead, the undersigned found that the claim(s) against those defendants, at minimum, survived the screening analysis. One week after the undersigned's recommendations were filed is where Mobley's present lawsuit begins.

On June 11, 2013, as mail was being distributed to the inmates, Booher went to Mobley's corner cell on the second tier of the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") at SCI Huntingdon and a "dialogue" between the two men commenced. First, Booher said to Mobley, "your punk ass still hiding in this corner cell!" Doc. 8 at ¶ 17. In response, Mobley stated, "whatever, you're the punk. I will report you for you [sic] calling me out my [sic] name and cursing at me." Id. at ¶ 18. Booher then stated "I don't give a fuck about you or your lawsuit. You gotta [sic] win it first, " id. at ¶ 19, to which Mobley said, "[M]an you were the one who denied me medical care. I'll write you up for harassing me. I can file all the lawsuits I want." Id. at ¶ 20. In an angry tone, Booher got the last word in on Mobley by referencing an alleged attack on another inmate that required the inmate to be sent to a hospital for life-threatening injuries. According to Mobley, Booher insinuated that he (Booher) was the one who attacked the other inmate. Mobley, who only heard about the alleged attack, did not see it or know whether Booher had any involvement with it. Mobley, having heard of the alleged attack on the other inmate, however, inquired about whether Booher was making a threat against him. Booher responded to Mobley's inquiry by stating that he would send Mobley "out on life flight." Id. at ¶ 25. Booher then walked away from Mobley's cell.

After Booher walked away, Mobley reported the perceived threat to OSII and addressed his report to Barnacle. Mobley explained that Booher had made references to the other inmate that was allegedly attacked and sent outside of the prison for medical treatment. See Doc. 1 at 29-30; Doc. 8 at ¶ 27. While Mobley admits in the amended complaint that he has no personal knowledge of what happened to the other inmate, he nevertheless wrote to Barnacle in the report that the inmate was attacked by Younker, in addition to other non-defendant DOC employees. Id. Despite the fact that Mobley referenced Younker in his OSII report, he solely expressed his fear that he was in danger from Booher. Id. Mobley did not reference any threats from other DOC employees. Id. Last, in the same report, Mobley explained how Booher was named as a defendant in his other federal lawsuit. Id. On June 28, 2013, Barnacle responded to Mobley's written report by stating that it did not "meet the criteria under DC ADM 001, " nor did it meet the requirement of a formal OSII inquiry. Id. at ¶ 29; Doc. 1 at 28. Barnacle informed Mobley, however, that he would forward the report to Bickell for his review. Id.

On June 18, 2013, while Mobley's OSII report was pending review by Barnacle, Mobley was sitting in his cell eating breakfast when a non-defendant corrections officer served him with a misconduct charge for using obscene, abusive, or inappropriate language to an employee and for also threatening another person during the early morning hours. The misconduct report was written by Nickum. Mobley, however, did not have any contact, conversation, or interaction with Nickum on the date in question.

Nearly one month later, on July 12, 2013, Mobley was informed by a non-defendant DOC employee that he was going to be moved to a new cell assignment. Mobley, thus, was ordered to pack his property and be ready to move. That same evening, Myers and Younker went to where Mobley was housed before he changed cells. Younker ordered Myers to handcuff Mobley behind his back. A tether was also attached to the handcuffs. According to Mobley, the handcuffs and tether were unauthorized under the circumstances, pursuant to prison policy DC-ADM 201. Nevertheless, as Mobley arrived to his new cell assignment still in handcuffs and linked to a tether, Younker asked Mobley, "you running your mouth to OSII?" Id. at ¶ 42. Mobley replied that he did not understand the question. Myers, however, began bending Mobley's left wrist, to which Mobley said "it's not gonna (sic) to work." Id. at ¶ 45. Thereafter, Nickum, Myers, and Younker surrounded Mobley and confronted him about "running [his] mouth" with respect to the inmate who was allegedly assaulted by a DOC employee. Nickum subsequently shouted "Now!" Id. at ¶ 49. At that moment, Myers yanked the tether connected to Mobley's handcuffs, smashing the metal cuffs into his wrists. Mobley fell off balance when the tether was pulled. Moreover, as he was losing his balance, Mobley felt a "blow" to the back of his head and neck, causing him to feel dizzy. After the blow was delivered, Mobley was "dumped" chest first into an area described as a "partition, " where Younker and Myers then begin "beating him up" with fists, elbows, and knees. Id. at ¶¶ 52-53. At one point during the attack, Younker told Myers to break Mobley's wrists. Id. at ¶ 54. Nickum stood by without providing Mobley any assistance or otherwise attempting to stop the attack. As the attack started to cease, Younker told Mobley that he "bet [Mobley] would keep [his] mouth shut now." Id. at ¶ 56.

In all, the alleged attack lasted between one and two minutes, and, according to Mobley, amounted to an unjustified use of force under prison policy DC-ADM 201. Also, during the incident, Younker was the ranking officer on duty. Among his responsibilities, Younker had a duty to provide safety to inmates. Younker also had a duty to ensure that the corrections officers he supervised followed prison policy.

After the alleged attack, Mobley was escorted to a "strip cage." Mobley felt pain in his chest, head, neck, and wrists. He also felt as though he needed to receive Nitroglycerin. Mobley does not explain why he needed to receive it. To date, Mobley feels pain in his wrist, preventing him from holding certain objects, suffers from emotional distress and anxiety, and has nightmares.

On the same date he was allegedly attacked, Mobley was eventually put back into his prison uniform, placed in handcuffs, and escorted to his new cell assignment without any of his personal property. While Mobley was in his new cell, Booher approached. Booher made similar comments to Mobley as he had on the previous day. As we liberally construe the amended complaint, Booher also allegedly told Mobley that he had informed Younker about the report sent to OSII. Mobley then began threatening to file further lawsuits. In relevant part, Booher responded that he was keeping Mobley's personal property. Thereafter, Booher and a non-defendant corrections officer left with Mobley's property. Later, Mobley received a misconduct charge authored by Myers for assaulting a staff member, using obscene language, and refusing to obey an order.

Two days after the alleged attack occurred, Mobley's personal property was returned to him. In addition, Mobley was transferred from SCI Huntingdon to SCI Houtzdale on July 23, 2015.

Upon his arrival at SCI Houtzdale, Mobley appeared for a misconduct hearing in front of Reed, on the misconduct charges he had received while detained at SCI Huntingdon. Mobley pleaded not guilty to those misconduct charges. After making a statement, Mobley requested witnesses to testify on his behalf at the hearing. Reed, however, denied Mobley's request. Reed, instead, authored a report of his findings in which he provided that he watched a video of the incident from three angles, which all tended to support the misconduct charges filed against Mobley by a preponderance of the evidence. As a consequence, Mobley was sanctioned with 90 days of "disciplinary status." Doc. 8 at ¶ 158. Mobley claims that, overall, Reed was biased and prejudice against him and denied him a fair hearing. Further, Mobley takes issue with Reed's findings and the fact that, contrary to prison policy, i.e., DC-ADM 201, the use of force allegedly used against him was never reported.

Mobley further complains that Bickell, who was the Superintendent at SCI Huntingdon at the time in question, had the responsibility to train, supervise, and discipline corrections officers to ensure compliance with prison policies such as the policy on use of restraints, use of force, the prohibition on retaliation, and falsifying misconduct reports; however, Bickell, according to Mobley, did not satisfy his responsibilities. Mobley also plainly alleges that Bickell's alleged failures as a supervisor caused the alleged attack on him. In relevant part, Mobley alleges that Bickell could have abated the risk of harm to him had he acted on the OSII report regarding the threats made by Booher. To that end, without supporting allegations, Mobley alleges that Bickell actually received the OSII report from Barnacle. Moreover, on information and belief, Mobley alleges that Bickell had knowledge of "other occasions" when DOC policy was not followed by corrections officers, including Younker, Nickum, Myers, and Booher.

In a similar vein, Mobley complains that Barnacle had a responsibility to take immediate action to abate harm to him after his report of a perceived threat by Booher was filed with OSII. According to Mobley, Barnacle "knew" of "numerous occasions, " spanning the course of several years, where corrections officers at SCI Huntingdon engaged in conduct that violated DOC policies and the Constitution.

Based upon these allegations, Mobley raises the following 12 Counts: (1) Count I: a violation of the First Amendment against Booher; (2) Count II: a violation of the First Amendment against Nickum; (3) Count III: a violation of the Eighth Amendment for "fail[ing] to act" against Bickell and Barnacle; (4) Count IV: a violation of the Eighth Amendment, for using excessive force, against Younker and Myers; (5) Count V: a violation of the Eighth Amendment, for failing to intervene, against Nickum; (6) Count VI: a violation of the First Amendment against Myers; (7) Count VII: a violation of the Fourth Amendment against Booher; (8) Count VIII: a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause against Reed; (9) Count IX: a violation of the Eighth Amendment, for acting with a deliberate indifference to risk of harm, against Booher, Barnacle, Bickell, Myers, Younker, and Nickum; (10) Count X: a violation of the Eighth Amendment for failing to train and supervise, against Younker and Bickell; (11) Count XI: state-law claims for assault and battery against Younker and Myers; and (12) Count XII: a state-law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Booher, Nickum, Bickell, Barnacle, Younker, Myers, and Reed. For remedies, Mobley seeks compensatory and punitive damages in addition to declaratory and injunctive relief. With respect ...

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